Robert Novak

Freshman Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has no doubt Bush is in charge. He knows from personal experience because the president tried to dissuade him from supporting a proposal to loan Iraq half of $20 billion in reconstruction money. Graham never was intimidated by party leaders during eight years in the House and has not changed in the Senate. He feels there is nothing the American people should feel ashamed about in lending some money to oil-rich Iraq.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a conservative Bush loyalist from Kansas, also affirms the president is in control. But at town hall meetings during the recess, he felt the public's alarm over casualties in Iraq. Like Graham, he defied the president as the Senate voted 51 to 47 (with Lugar and Biden both backing Bush in this instance).

Irritation with the president's intractable opposition to loans spread to his strongest supporters in the House and probably reflects Iraqi war weariness. Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, a leading advocate of loans, was called (as his colleagues put it) "down to the principal's office" at the White House to be lectured. That turned Wamp around. However, other conservative Republicans -- led by Reps. Mike Pence of Indiana and Dana Rohrabacher of California -- not only supported loans but actively rounded up votes against the White House.

Concern by Republican constituents over American soldiers being picked off one by one suggests deep-seated hostility to new battlefields. A new combat area was suggested in a little noticed Associated Press interview in Jerusalem last weekend with Richard Perle, a Defense Policy Board member and close adviser to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We have problems with the Syrians who continue to support terrorism," said Perle, adding ominously, "Syria is militarily very weak."

That's what Perle was saying about Iraq two years ago, and he was exactly right in conventional terms. It is postwar worries that haunt Dick Lugar and other thoughtful Republicans, who do not relish Syria as yet another fighting front in the war against terrorism.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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